By WARREN RESEN – IFWTWA & NATJA
It started during the Great Depression, born of a mother’s need to feed her family. For decades, Chalet Suzanne was a stopping place for the rich and famous and became synonymous with Lake Wales, Florida.
But just what is Chalet Suzanne and what has kept it going through good times and bad? Is it a motel, a bed and breakfast, a restaurant or a throwback to another era? It is all these things and more.
Built in 1931 and remodeled in 2008, Chalet Suzanne has been characterized as “a gracious oasis amidst the tumult of Central Florida attractions.”
Chalet Suzanne is not a boxy look-alike chain motel. In fact building exteriors appear to have been pulled from the pages of an illustrated children’s story book. Each of its 26 rooms is different and furnished with antiques.
People have been returning here for more than 80 years bringing their children and grandchildren. It is a place where remembrances of earlier, less hurried times can be recaptured. The list of celebrity guests who visited during its glory days is impressive, their autographed photos on display in the restaurant.
From its earliest days, the outstanding food and dining experience at Chalet Suzanne received top reviews from critics and guests. Initially it was the famous Duncan Hines who featured Chalet Suzanne in his books about wonderful places to stay and dine in Florida. Gourmet Magazine called the food “glorious” and went on to rave about the unique five dining room levels where “every corner glows with antiques…” and many more honors have been earned through the years.
The piéce de résistance of dining at Chalet Suzanne is their five course gourmet dinner. An entire article can be devoted to this event so go to their web page and experience for yourself the treat that awaits guests.
Dining in the old world elegance of Chalet Suzanne’s multi-level dining room is in itself a unique experience. When it opened for business in the 1930s, the world of fast food had not been invented and it still does not exist here.
Food is prepared to order. Diners can easily converse without being disturbed. The only background noise is the sound of muted classical music. The wait staff is unobtrusive and ever watchful. This is truly dining, not eating.
Recognizing today’s economic climate, changes have been made to Chalet Suzanne’s menu. Gourmet food is still the main feature, but now there are a la carte selections. A children’s menu is also offered for all meals. But whatever your choice, an overnight stay or dining, Chalet Suzanne is a wonderful change of pace in today’s hectic world.
Guests at Chalet Suzanne can stroll through the property’s 100 acres, swim in a generous size pool overlooking their lake where kayaks are available, or take a tour of the on-site soup canning facility. Many other delightful surprises await guests and these can be found on their web page as well.
Ask Eric Hinshaw, third generation owner, to describe Chalet Suzanne and he would tell you that the property is “Quirky.” He goes on to say, “Please don’t come to the Chalet Suzanne expecting a plastic-perfect theme park. If real, living history and personal service as well as distinctive, fairly priced and award-winning fare are important to you then give us a second look.”
While at Chalet Suzanne, a visit to nearby Bok Tower Gardens is highly recommended. The opening of this National Historic Landmark predates Chalet Suzanne by only a few years. You might say they grew up together.
In 1929, Edward Bok gifted this 50 acre garden to the public. It was reported that approximately 50,000 people showed up on opening day. Today the gardens with their mature trees and well manicured grounds are even lovelier then they were back then. Shaded paths meander through lush gardens in what Mr. Bok called, “a place of beauty, serenity and peace.”
Victoria water lilies, native to the Amazon River where they can grow into five foot pads, fill some of the garden’s reflecting pools. Seasonal bursts of colorful flowers from azaleas, camellias and magnolias are shaded by thousands of towering palms, oaks and pines making a visit here a delight to the eye and senses.
Situated on the highest point in Florida at 298 feet above sea level, the centerpiece of the gardens is the soaring 205-foot marble and coquina Singing Tower Carillon. The 60 bell structure houses bells ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 24,000 pounds and music from these bells fills the gardens every 30 minutes. Concerts are featured daily at 1 and 3 p.m. and special events are held throughout the year.
A trip to this area of Central Florida is something out of the ordinary. A stay at Chalet Suzanne and a walk through Bok Tower Gardens will send you home refreshed, not frazzled.
Over the years Lake Wales became a backwater to those glitzy tourist attractions of Orlando to the north. But with the opening of LEGOLAND® to the west of this city and only minutes from Chalet Suzanne, change is coming.
Only time will tell what affect this change will have on the slower paced life style of Lake Wales.
On a map of Florida, Lake Wales can be found at the intersections of Routes 60 and 27.